If you are married to a person suffering from addiction, you know how terrible the disease is. And you feel the direct and indirect impacts. Plus, you agonize overseeing the person you love going down the drain of addiction.
Unfortunately, many relationships fall apart because of addiction in one of the spouses. Higher divorce rates in the United States are linked to substance abuse and addiction. About 40 to 50% of married couples in the U.S. divorce and the rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.
Addiction is so pervasive that it should not come as any surprise. Estimates of certain addictions include:
- 12 to 13 million people in the U.S. are struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), often called alcoholism
- 8 million American people are believed to be suffering from an eating disorder
- About 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder
- 1 to 2 million Americans are addicted to cocaine
- 2 million Americans are pathologically problem gamblers
How Does Addiction Affect Divorce?
Divorcing an addicted spouse is usually the last resort. Although it is heartbreaking, it is sometimes the only choice you have as a non-addict. This is especially true when there are children involved. A stable adult in the household is necessary when there are children, but when addiction is involved, both parents are often not available and there is little stability in the home.
Substance abuse and substance use disorders (SUDs) can cause serious issues in an individual’s life. Along with the individual damage, addiction has a negative impact on the family as well. This is the reason divorce rates are much higher among people with SUDs. When a person becomes addicted to a substance, it becomes their highest priority.
Common signs of substance abuse include:
- Consuming alcohol or drugs is one of the main activities you do together
- Using substances becomes more important than providing for and spending time with the family
- Emotional stress
Excessive drinking and the use of drugs are associated with domestic violence. The domestic violence rates are substantially higher in people who abuse substances than in those who don’t.
Domestic violence is named as the reason for 23.5% of divorces.
It’s common for people struggling with addiction to spending 50% or more of their income on drugs. Needless to say, this can cause trust issues and financial problems in a marriage which can lead to divorce. Some individuals may spend up to $1,200 per day on drugs.
Addiction can cause a breakdown in open, honest communication between a couple. Sometimes, the only way couples can communicate effectively is when one or both of them are under the influence.
6 Surprising Facts About Addiction and Divorce
Here are some facts about addiction and divorce that might surprise you:
- The average age for Americans who get divorced is 30 years old. Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 also have the highest rates of SUDs.
- Divorce rates are considerably higher among people with alcohol use disorder.
- Addiction is the 3rd most referenced reason for women seeking a divorce and the 8th most common reason for men.
- Alcohol use can affect sex drive negatively. Couples in sexless relationships are less happy and more likely to divorce.
- Alcoholism can also affect fertility negatively. Infertile couples are 3x more likely to divorce.
- Substance abuse was named as the reason for almost 35% of all divorces.
Is Your Spouse an Addict?
Sometimes, people don’t realize that their spouse is an addict when they get married. And, many times, the addiction evolves later on. Sadly, it’s a problem that must be dealt with by millions of couples.
Still, you might not be willing to recognize that your spouse is an addict, even though you’ve been seeing some red flags. The most common reaction is to try to explain them away. However, there are some signs to be aware of, and the physical symptoms are the easiest to recognize.
- Bloodshot eyes or pupils appearing larger or smaller than normal
- Changes in appetite
- Sudden changes in weight
- Sleep pattern changes
- A decline in grooming habits and appearance
- Runny nose or sniffling
- Bad breath
- Unusual smells on body, breath, or clothing
- Slurred speech
The psychological signs are usually the last to be recognized. These signs progress slowly as the addiction grows.
- Appearing to be overly fearful, paranoid, or anxious
- Lacking motivation
- Seeming tired or “spaced out”
- Periods of unusually increased energy, nervousness, or instability
- Rapid mood changes
- Increasing irritability
- Angry fits of temper
- Unexplained changes in personality or attitude
Behavioral symptoms may vary with the type of substance involved. Also, some of these signs may be due to an illness but ongoing symptoms may be a sign of addiction.
- Problems in the relationship specifically due to the substance use
- Stopping or cutting down on previously enjoyable activities such as sports, socializing, and personal hobbies
- Deterioration of personal hygiene
- Acting secretive or behaving suspiciously
- Having a new group of friends
- Using prescription drugs when they are no longer needed
- Getting into trouble regularly–fights, accidents, illegal activities
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
- Unexpected changes in favorite hangouts or hobbies
- Financial problems and an unexplained need for money
- Frequently “borrowing” money or stealing
Are You Contributing to the Addiction?
Often, in addition to the spouse with the substance use disorder, there is a spouse that is actually contributing to the problem without recognizing it. Here are some ways that spouses help maintain the addiction.
It’s natural to have sympathy. However, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt is like putting on blinders. Bailing them out may be actually digging them deeper into the hole. Giving them money when you know you shouldn’t, taking on their responsibilities, and making excuses for them are enabling activities. Instead of helping, it’s making the addiction worse.
Some people enable their spouse due to the wish to be their savior. This belief that you can save your spouse if you’re good enough may be more about being a martyr or a hero. Interestingly, this type of enabling can actually become an addiction itself as the person becomes dependent on the need to help, to feel good.
There is frequently a spouse that struggles with codependency in addition to the spouse with the addiction. Codependency is defined as a set of compulsive, dysfunctional behaviors that are learned by family members to help them survive. Adult codependent people have a tendency to become involved with people who are:
- Unavailable emotionally
Codependent people generally try to control everything in the relationship but aren’t able. Recovery happens for a codependent spouse when they eventually focus on their own needs instead of putting up with bad treatment or trying to rescue their spouse. It’s often the codependent spouse who begins the recovery process by recognizing their own need for assertiveness and improving their communication skills.
The denial that accompanies addiction is a family problem because it often includes all members of the family. Spouses may believe the hangover is the flu, overlook a fender bender accident, and ignore the lack of physical and emotional availability.
Deciding What to Do
Here are some questions that may help you decide what you can or should do next:
- Have you admitted that your spouse is an addict?
- Have you talked to your spouse about their addiction?
- Has your life become chaotic because you live with an addict?
- Have you sought help for yourself from an addiction expert?
- Have you tried to get help from an addiction expert for your spouse?
- Have you gone to counseling with your spouse with a counselor that is experienced in addiction and family systems?
- Have there been serious negative events because of your spouse’s addiction?
- Have you told your spouse that you will leave unless they stop using?
- Are you sure you would actually leave?
- Have you ever tried a trial separation?
- Have you considered an intervention?
Alcoholism and Divorce: What’s the Connection?
When considering alcoholism and divorce, the real problem seems to come up when only one spouse is the heavy drinker in the relationship. Studies have revealed that when only one person has a drinking problem, there is much more likely to be a divorce. Researchers from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) found that married couples who drink heavily are just as likely to stay together as married couples who don’t drink.
The research provided evidence to support the belief that heavy drinking by only one partner can lead to divorce. RIA director Kenneth Leonard, Ph.D., stated that it is the difference between the couple’s drinking habits, and not the drinking itself, that causes marital dissatisfaction, separation, and divorce. “Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits.”
What Can You Do?
Sadly, it’s impossible to force an alcoholic to change. However, there are ways to get help if your spouse is an alcoholic.
Try counseling with a therapist who is experienced in working with problems related to alcohol use disorder. Also, there are programs available to partners of alcoholics including:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Codependents Anonymous
Recovery and rehab programs provide a broad number of resources and skills to help people with AUD cope with their disease and learn how to avoid relapsing.
If your spouse becomes violent and you are concerned about your safety, or the safety of your children, it may be time to consider a divorce.
Help Yourself, Help Your Spouse at Westwind
If your spouse is struggling with addiction, you aren’t alone. You need to take care of yourself while you help your loved one receive the best care. At Westwind Recovery® Center, we have programs and professional addiction specialists to help the whole family through this journey.
We can offer a supervised medical detox to safely remove the physical effects of substances from your body to prepare you for a treatment program. Our treatment programs range from inpatient (the highest level of care) to several outpatient programs, and even a sober living program.
Newsweek Magazine has named Westwind Recovery® Center “Best Los Angeles Treatment Center” in 2020 and 2021 for good reasons. With our comprehensive levels of treatment programs, we can provide your loved one with highly individualized treatment that will give you your best chance for success. Contact us today so we can help you begin this journey to a more fulfilling life for yourself and your spouse.
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.